EU president: Europe is the ‘global pioneer’ of citizen’s digital rights

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Europeans have become “pioneers in online rights” and now want to lead a “global framework for AI,” the EU’s top official said today.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s president, revealed the bloc’s digital plans during her State of the Union address in Strasbourg. She used the speech to flaunt the achievements of her three-year reign.

A particularly large spotlight was shone on her tech policies.

“We have set the path for the digital transition and become global pioneers in online rights,” von der Leyen said.

The former German defence minister praised the bloc’s work on semiconductor self-sufficiency, which centres on the Chips Act. Backed with €43bn of funding, the legislation aims to double the EU’s market share in semiconductors to at least 20% by 2030.

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Von der Leyen also touted the union’s clean tech industry, as well as the digital projects in NextGenerationEU, a COVID-19 recovery plan. Her biggest brag, however, involved digital safety.

Europe has led on managing the risks of the digital world,” she said.

To the chagrin of Silicon Valley, the EU has become the world’s most formidable tech regulator. Tough laws on privacy, tax avoidance, antitrust, and online content have led to eye-popping fines for some of the biggest companies in the US.  Von der Leyen warned them that more rules are coming.

To justify the intervention, she argued that disinformation, data exploitation, and “harmful content” have reduced the public’s trust and breached their rights.

“In response, Europe has become the global pioneer of citizen’s rights in the digital world,” she said.

As evidence for this claim, von der Leyen pointed to two recent regulations: the Digital Services Act (DSA), which imposes rules on content moderation, and the Digital Market Act (DMA), which aims to reign in big tech’s dominance.

Her next big target is artificial intelligence.

“We need an open dialogue with those that develop and deploy AI.

In recent months, concerns have grown about AI causing job losses, discrimination, surveillance, and even extinction. To mitigate the threats, the EU will soon adopt the AI Act, the first-ever comprehensive legislation for the tech.

Von der Leyen described the rules as “a blueprint for the whole world.” She also laid out the next steps of the EU’s plan.

“I believe Europe, together with partners, should lead the way on a new global framework for AI, built on three pillars: guardrails, governance, and guiding innovation,” she said.

The main guardrails will be provided by the AI Act. For governance, von der Leven called for the creation of a global panel of scientists, tech companies and independent experts. Together, they would inform policymakers about developments in the field.

On innovation, she announced a project that will enable AI startups to train their models on the EU’s high-performance computers. The private sector, however, will likely want further support. In an open letter published in June, some of Europe’s biggest companies warn that the AI Act will inhibit innovation and jeopardise the continent’s businesses.

Von der Leyen, meanwhile, called for closer collaboration with the private sector.

“We need an open dialogue with those that develop and deploy AI,” she said. “It happens in the United States, where seven major tech companies have already agreed to voluntary rules around safety, security and trust.

“It happens here, where we will work with AI companies, so that they voluntarily commit to the principles of the AI Act before it comes into force. Now we should bring all of this work together towards minimum global standards for safe and ethical use of AI.”